The brightness of a sunny spring day and the clarity of a blue sky forced their way into the meeting room’s tall windows. Multiple rows of six chairs were lined up like soldiers readying for their commands while a podium stood at the front of it all. The Chicago Writers Conference (CWA) was about to start. This was my first writers conference where I realized I had found my writer’s lane, and I learned how to navigate in it.
Years ago when I started out as a writer, I couldn’t say I was always ready to join a group of anything related to writing. Self-teaching my craft of choice was a challenge in perseverance, and a delight because I had opportunities to read greats works by authors offering writing instruction on memoir and by authors who wrote their own memoirs. Keeping to my introverted-self was just fine by me; my writer-self wasn’t ready to belong with other writers somewhere.
As a writers group member, a conference attendee, or even a workshop worker, I felt as if I would know nothing and they would know everything. I believed words and thoughts came easily to writers. Paragraphs would follow each other like dominoes and a writer needed to just push the first domino of his work and everything would follow into place. (cue laughter) Not so much for me. I knew my place and I knew the places of other writers. I believed our places didn’t run parallel. The only thing I could do was to keep writing, cultivating a sense of security by working within my comfort zone.
But then my book was published. I was forced out of my chair and away from my computer to learn how to present my book and me to a world of strangers who became friends and fans, supporters and cheerleaders at events. I was learning my sense of place. And I was also growing out of my comfort zone, steering into a new lane among other writers.
The conference was an enabling two days. I attended writing sessions, listened to teachers who taught by example, who guided writers from their experiences, and who showed by their writing works. Writers gathered to form a tribe where writing glued us together. Yet, we were at different stages of our writing lives. I spoke with a young memoir writer who had just started to write about a tragic event in her life because she was ready to face the story once again, a graduate school writer with a wicked sci-fi imagination who couldn’t wait to write its story, and an older woman’s fiction writer with a completed novel who was searching for a best-fit publisher.
Turning a corner with a published book and essays forced me into an intersection where I collided with published authors’ anxiety over less than expected book sales, questioning themselves about where their writing life was leading, and their competitiveness among other writers. They took me on a ride with them to a place I had never been to before, introducing me to fears, anxiety, and even sadness I had never felt before or even had considered.
Though we shared our writing journeys with each other and disclosed our emotions, I realized how different writers are, in various stages of writing, with different levels of writing educations, and experiences. I also saw how writers’ goals can be easily overshadowed in this mix, and how they are individual and even personal to a writer.
The CWA was my first conference and perhaps was one of many for another writer. It’s not about running parallel with other writers; it’s about finding your own place to navigate. Yes, I can now belong among writers who inspire, teach and guide. But I must seek my own direction, too. The clarity and brightness of that conference weekend helped me to move into my own lane, travel at a speed that best suits me and to take my turns as they come.